Antimicrobial resistance is a large and growing problem, with the potential for enormous health and economic consequences for the United States and the rest of the world. According to a new OECD report, released Wednesday, superbug infections could cost the lives of about 2.4 million people in North America, Europe and Australia over the next 30 years unless more is done to stem antibiotic resistance.
On average, about 29,500 persons die each year in the United States from infections related to eight resistant bacteria. By 2050 it is estimated that antimicrobial resistance will kill about 1 million people in the United States.
The economic toll of this superbug crisis is huge: In the United States alone the health-care costs dealing with antimicrobial resistance could reach $65 billion by 2050, according to the OECD report. That is more than the flu, HIV and tuberculosis. If projections are correct, resistance to backup antibiotics will be 70 percent higher in 2030 compared to 2005 in OECD countries. In the same period, resistance to third-line treatments will double across EU countries.
The bottom line: Between 2015 and 2050, antimicrobial resistance would cost about $3.5 billion per year to the health-care services of the 33 countries included in the analysis. The impact on quality of life, measured through disability-adjusted life years, will be even larger, with up to 1 out of every 232 individuals losing one year of life in good health because of antimicrobial resistance in the OECD countries.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned it had detected 221 strains of a rare breed of "nightmare bacteria." This bacteria is virtually untreatable by antibiotics and have special genes that enable them to spread their resistance to other germs. Nightmare bacteria is particularly deadly in the elderly and people with chronic illnesses. The probability of developing a resistant infection is also significantly higher for children up to 12 months of age, and men are also more likely to develop resistant infections than women. Nearly half of the resulting infections prove fatal.